The Indiana Pacers’ only wins in the past three weeks have come on their own floor, and that’s a big reason why they don’t hold the Eastern Conference lead.
Another home victory could give the top spot back to the Pacers on Sunday night while dealing a blow to the Atlanta Hawks’ playoff hopes.
Indiana (53-24) has dropped seven of 10, including six straight losses away from home. Those road woes have played a large part in the Pacers blowing a three-game lead over Miami, which hosts New York on Sunday afternoon.
The Heat moved atop the East after the Pacers’ 103-77 loss to San Antonio on Monday and remain percentage points ahead. Indiana had a chance to take back the lead Friday with Miami losing in double overtime to Minnesota, but it fell 102-94 at Toronto.
The Pacers went scoreless in the final 4:23 against the Atlantic Division leaders, who were missing two starters.
"They made more plays than we did," coach Frank Vogel said. "I thought we played better. I thought we’re still continuing to get back on track, but it wasn’t enough to beat one of the best home teams in the NBA in the second half of the season."
Despite its struggles, Vogel’s team has remained consistent in Indiana. The Pacers are a league-best 34-5 at home – 24-1 against East foes – and the only loss in their last six came to the West-leading Spurs.
Indiana faces the West’s second-place team, Oklahoma City, next Sunday in its only other regular-season home game after Sunday. The Pacers’ remaining three road games include one at Miami on Friday.
So it would seem they need to take advantage of hosting Atlanta (33-42), which has lost 13 of 15 on the road as well as six straight in Indianapolis – three in last year’s playoffs. The teams could meet in the first round for the second straight year if Indiana can grab the No. 1 seed and Atlanta can hang on to eighth, currently one game ahead of New York with two in hand.
The Hawks won the first meeting with Indiana this season but have dropped the last two, including a 108-98 road loss Feb. 18 when Paul George led the Pacers with 26 points.
George is scoring 26.5 per game this month after averaging 16.1 in his final eight games of March. David West also may be getting on track, reaching 15 points in back-to-back games – on 16-of-26 shooting – after failing to do so in nine straight while shooting 34.3 percent.
Atlanta had its second-best shooting game of the season Friday at 58.5 percent in a 117-98 victory over Cleveland.
Mike Scott had a team-leading 26 points – the second-best scoring performance of his career – after totaling 16 in his previous four games. Jeff Teague provided 20 points and 12 assists for the Hawks, who have won two of three following a six-game skid.
"All year and under a lot of difference circumstances we’ve said we like our group and they’re resilient," coach Mike Budenholzer said. "They played with a lot of focus and effort and attention to detail and all the things we really talk about every night."